High school football season is in full swing and with it the memories of glory days long past.
That moment we relive over and over, for a brief respite in our otherwise mundane adulthood. Nothing wrong with that. Unless it’s evolved into the singular life-defining event of your life.
And most of us have gone on to live lives with numerous peaks—as well as a few valleys. Not everybody, though.
Most of us know Mr. Peaked in High School. He’s the weary 50-year-old who will tell you that “the best days of your lives” are taking place right now during your own high school years. Which, of course, leads us directly to our next thought that after suffering through four years of growing pains and adolescent drama, “You mean it’s all downhill from here?!?”
I think it’s safe to say, however, that for most of us, life got better.
And from that viewpoint, I can look back on my own brief, shining moment in high school football.
I had not touched the pigskin for four years. Then one day the planets lined up.
Late in the fourth quarter, I was downfield, and I was totally alone, not a defender in sight. An open target. Usually, this meant nothing to the team, the Pequannock Township Golden Panthers. But as I stood there, I realized the ball was in the air and this time it looked to have a trajectory that pointed to me.
I looked up as the ball continued its arc, the only resistance being the October air. Time seemed to slow. Seconds stretched to minutes in my mind. Totally alone, I was just about on the goal line. I thought about the kid in right field who prays the baseball never comes near him until one day it did. I’m pretty sure he dropped it.
At this point, it was clear that spiraling football and I had an appointment with destiny. Glory was within my grasp. The ball approached like a slow-motion freight train and all I could do was wait for it. Space and time converged to place me and that football in a cosmic intersection of forces.
Everyone else on the field had fulfilled their roles in this drama. It was left to me to complete that pass. I felt a glance from hundreds of pairs of eyes, which next became a piercing, laser-like stare. Every man, woman, child, dog, earthworm, and crow within that stadium had paused their lives briefly, pushing all other thoughts, pushing away all their concerns and anxieties for just a moment. It was as if they all joined me in their consciences.
My success or failure would rule the next few moments for hundreds of people in this collective of high school sports fans.
The ball inched closer. I could hear it. Everything came down to me. The hopes and dreams of an entire community were riding on the next few milliseconds.
Suddenly time resumed its normal pace. What happened? I looked down and saw the ball was in my hands. I had caught it! But where were the cheers? The accolades? Nobody was even looking in my direction. Just then I heard Bill Cromie, music teacher and longtime smart Alek announcer of Pequannock Football, boom into the public address system, “Catch by Phalon. Out of bounds. Out of bounds.”
Apparently, the crowd lost interest and moved on when the ball veered out of bounds over the 20-yard line.
I immediately vanished back into obscurity. A referee yelled, “Hey, you! The ball!” I was just “Hey You” again.
About now, somebody from the Pequannock football team during my high school years is saying, “I don’t remember this. I don’t remember Phalon on the team. In fact, I don’t remember Phalon.”
So, some clarification might be in order here. Yes, I did catch the ball. But I wasn’t actually on the team. I wasn’t even on the team during high school. I was about 26 or 27 at the time and on the sidelines that day as a sportswriter. The part about Bill Cromie announcing my out-of-bounds catch is true though it did drip with the cheeky bemusement of his noted sense of humor.
I’ve covered high school football on and off for more than 30 years, so it really was only a matter of time until a ball landed in my lap.
But I did achieve my own moment of football glory. And when I ask people, “Did I ever tell you about that great catch I made during a high school football game?” they invariably respond, “Only about 900 times.”
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.